Vision for the Future
Cleveland Clinic president keeps a sharp eye on health care in Martin County
BY DONNA CRARY
For Dr. Rishi Singh, taking the helm at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health is about continuously improving the quality of health care in Martin County.
“I enjoy being a physician leader of this organization who is able to understand how we can do better at the bedside by working in the boardroom to impact and improve the lives in our community in a meaningful way,” he says.
In Singh’s 18-year career at Cleveland Clinic, he has worked as an ophthalmologist specializing in retinal surgery. And he’s no stranger to assuming a leadership role. For the last five years, he has served on Cleveland Clinic’s board of governors — a physician board that guides the international healthcare organization.
Singh is also passionate about conducting breakthrough research that has advanced the treatment of retinal disease. He has authored more than 200 peer reviewed publications, books and book chapters and serves as principal investigator of numerous trials.
Additionally, he is making a difference as a college professor, where he teaches and trains the next generation of medical students.
Born in upstate New York, Singh spent his adolescent life in Nashua, New Hampshire, a quaint New England town that he fondly remembers. That is where he was first drawn to medicine during his high school years when he volunteered at Nashua’s St. Joseph Hospital. He learned firsthand at the hospital the importance of volunteering and the impact it makes on patient care.
CARVING OUT A PATH
It was also during high school that Singh began his foray into medicine as a researcher. He drove 50 minutes to Boston to work in a lab where he performed benchtop research studying flatworms from salt water by investigating their visual pathways. These experiences during this time inspired him and set him on a path to choose a career in medicine. After graduating from high school, he was admitted to medical school at Boston University.
“It was a Doogie Howser-type of program because you were admitted to medical school from high school with shortening of my college years,” he says.
During his freshman year in college, Singh met his future wife, Simi, who was also enrolled in the medical program. Today, she is an internal medicine physician who works for Veterans Affairs Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.
While in medical school, Singh took a year off so he could pursue research at an ophthalmology lab. It was through his work in research that he realized he wanted to specialize in ophthalmology.
“Ophthalmology is a field that has a huge impact on the welfare of the patient, but at the time, little innovation or insight to how best address the leading causes of blindness,” he recalls. “As an eye provider, we had the ability to help our patient from being totally blind to seeing again — it’s an impactful specialty. I was impressed with how much the field was evolving and how much research still needed to be done.”
Singh graduated from Boston University School of Medicine in 2001 and completed his residency at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. He then began a fellowship program at the Cole Eye Institute at Cleveland Clinic where he focused on retinal surgery and medical treatments. Initially, he thought he would stay in Cleveland for only two years since he had established roots in Boston.
“I am a New Englander by origin — a Red Sox fan, a Patriots fan — but I fell in love with the Midwest and Cleveland Clinic,” he says. “It has a value alignment to me as an individual that I relate to the patient-centric care. High quality and high outcomes are what our brand stands for, and we do what’s right for the patient each and every day.”
Singh began his career with Cleveland Clinic and has not looked back. As an ophthalmologist, he takes care of medical and surgical retinal conditions that include retinal detachment, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
“Ophthalmology is a cross section between outpatient clinical care and microsurgery,” he says. “Building lasting relationships with patients is a key driver for my satisfaction as an eye care provider. The statistics show the population getting older will need us with over 50 percent of people above the age of 80 having some form of macular degeneration.”
Singh points out that Martin County has no facility where patients can receive retinal surgery. He says that patients have to travel out of the county, which can be difficult for the elderly. As president of Cleveland Clinic, he plans to make eye surgery more accessible for locals.
“Cleveland Clinic is going to complement local care with our first eye institute in Florida, and I’m going to be here to start the process of improving the care of the community through this effort,” he says.
As an ophthalmologist, Singh says his mission is to improve the care and quality of his patients’ lives through various eye-care related procedures and surgeries. That mission, he adds, is accomplished through research, clinical education and clinical care.
As a researcher, Singh has helped patients through cutting-edge therapies that have changed their lives. He has been the principal investigator in numerous clinical studies that have led to the FDA approval of multiple drugs treating conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, retinopathy, retinal vein occlusion and retinal detachments.
“The drugs that I have worked on from a research perspective and pioneered in our field have been transformational,” he explains. “Imagine patients who couldn’t drive are now driving again because of the therapies we are applying. My research and efforts have been rewarded with outcomes of patients seeing more and doing more as a result of my work.”
His extensive research has been published in New England Journal of Medicine, Ophthalmology, JAMA Ophthalmology, British Journal of Ophthalmology and Lancet. He has also received many accolades for his research including the Alpha Omega Alpha Research Award and the American Society of Retina Specialists Senior Honor Award.
Additionally, Singh is a professor at the Lerner College of Medicine in Cleveland where he teaches continuing medical education, is involved with resident and fellow advisement, and mentors medical students in the research lab.
“I was a trainee and know what it’s like to be a trainee and not know all of the spheres of the area that you’re focusing on,” he says. “And I valued that mentorship that I had from individuals — people that were willing to take time out of their schedule and teach me. So, I feel like it’s giving back in many ways. It’s incredibly rewarding.”
Singh also believes that instructing students pushes his own ability to continually learn.
“It’s easy to get stagnant in this world and be set in your ways,” he says. “Trainees really push the envelope of new cutting-edge therapies, new thoughts, new ideas, new treatments, and new approaches. It’s incredibly valuable to have them work with me and do what we’re doing.”
TAKING THE REINS
Singh moved to the Treasure Coast upon assuming his role as president of the hospital in January 2022 and promptly fell in love with it.
“I learned late in life that this is a wonderful place to live and to be,” he says. “I wish I knew this 18 years ago when I was in Ohio. I would have moved here earlier than I did.”
He has been especially impressed with the level of philanthropy in the area.
“The people on the Treasure Coast are incredibly caring, kind and supportive,” Singh remarks. “It’s a very vibrant community that cares a lot about social responsibility. I’ve been impressed with how much I’ve seen with regards to supporting children, supporting those at-risk and supporting those with adversity in our community. And I’ve been impressed to see that even coming from Boston and the Midwest, how much the Florida population cares for each other.”
As Singh leads Cleveland Clinic Martin Health, he says his roles as president include providing a shared vision for the hospital; managing the hospital in a way that focuses on improving its quality, outcomes, and safety; and supporting its workforce.
Singh shares some of his best practices that he uses in his role as president.
“I try to have everyone build a consensus in order to make the final decision,” he explains. “I think with shared input and a diverse leadership group, you can make the best decisions that you can possibly make. I also tend to make sure that when we come to a consensus that we have measurable and actionable items to follow improvements and hold ourselves accountable to the outcome.”
Being a good listener is another important skill that has helped Singh in his leadership position.
“As doctors or as clinicians, we by nature would like to prescribe something to make improvements,” he notes. “In leadership, it is important to stop, pause and to listen to what the community and stakeholders have to say before making a decision.”
Under Singh’s leadership, Cleveland Clinic Martin Health plans to relocate its obstetrics services from the north to the south hospital. The beautiful new facility will offer single occupancy rooms for mothers and newborns, thanks to an endowment of $28 million, the largest gift in the history of Martin County.
The hospital president is also working to offset the nursing shortage crisis by collaborating with nursing educators at Indian River State College and Keiser University to help train for an essential workforce.
Cleveland Clinic Martin Health also provides job incentives for nursing graduates by offering $15,000 in loan repayment a year to new hires with good standing. Singh adds that the hospital encourages nurses to become leaders in their field by providing programs to educate and develop their skills and competencies.
As Singh looks to the future for the hospital, he draws upon its past by pointing out Cleveland Clinic’s 100-year history. As president, he says he’s very excited with the challenge and the opportunity to help the community and to create a continuously improving health care organization for the future.
“Cleveland Clinic has been here for 100 years, and we will be for the next 100 years,” he says. “We often ask, ‘What does the landscape look like beyond us here in 100 years? What does the landscape of this community look like? Are we going to make an impact now that will be helpful toward our improved future?’
“We are excited for the future of what Clinic Martin Health can offer the community and take stock of what we are doing each and every day to achieve this.”
Sept. 23, 2022